Morning Digest: Feb. 17, 2014

Baraka campaign bus torched in Newark

NEWARK – Days after the Newark mayoral race became a two-man campaign, one candidate’s preferred mode of transportation was set on fire next to his Central Ward campaign headquarters.

According to a press release from the campaign of South Ward Councilman and Newark mayoral candidate Ras Baraka, the red-white-and-blue Baraka campaign bus was torched early Sunday morning. (Bonamo/PolitickerNJ)

Baraka campaign bus torched in Newark | Politicker NJ



Poll shows statistical dead heat in Paterson Mayor’s Race

A poll by the Gallowglass Group of Wood-Ridge shows a head-to-head war between Council President Andre Sayegh and former Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres for the office of Mayor of Paterson.

Incumbent Mayor Jeff Jones lags behind the two front-runners, but no one gets 50% in a May nonpartisan, highest-vote-getter-wins election that does not have a runoff, according to the poll of 400 likely registered voters in the City of Paterson from January 16 to January 23.

In the poll, Sayegh and Torres are tied at 33% with Jones receiving 15%. (Pizarro/PolitickerNJ)

Poll shows statistical dead heat in Paterson Mayor’s Race | Politicker NJ



Report: Chris Christie in Puerto Rico

As snow has battered much of the east coast, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spent Friday at a Puerto Rico resort, according to a report. 

Citing a person who saw the Republican poolside at a resort in San Juan, CNN reported Christie was there vacationing with his family.

A statement out Friday from Christie’s office confirmed that the governor, who has been embroiled in the fallout of controversial lane closures last September that were eventually linked to aides that have since been fired or resigned, left for a vacation through Monday. The statement did not specify where Christie went on vacation. (McCalmont/Politico)




GWB Scandal: Port Authority chief wants investigation into PA cops’ roles 

The Port Authority’s executive director on Sunday asked authorities to investigate the involvement of some of the agency’s police officers in the George Washington Bridge lane closures.

Executive Director Pat Foye’s request for an investigation by the Port Authority’s inspector general was spurred by two reports on Sunday, including one in The Record, that raised new questions about whether some officers at the bridge knew about the political motivations behind the lane closures or were used to deliver a message to the mayor of Fort Lee.

The request, confirmed by a source close to the police department, represented a new front amid an ongoing effort by legislators and federal prosecutors to find out who — besides a deputy chief of staff in Governor Christie’s office and a high-ranking Port Authority executive — knew the true reasons behind lane closures that gridlocked Fort Lee for more than four days in September. Democrats believe the closures were punishment meant for the Fort Lee mayor, a Democrat who declined to endorse Governor Christie for reelection. (Boburg/The Record) 




NJ Transit chief likely to answer for agency’s key failures

After eight years away from public service, Jim Weinstein returned in 2010 as an elder statesman in Governor Christie’s newly assembled Cabinet. A low talker known for his steady demeanor and disarming smile, Weinstein had been steeped in nearly two decades of political and public service — including four years as the state transportation commissioner — when Christie hoisted him to the helm of NJ Transit.

Weinstein would play a critical role for Christie less than a year into his term when the governor stunned the state by announcing he would shut down a $9 billion project that called for constructing a commuter rail under the Hudson River. Christie’s reason: The project was on course to soar at least $1 billion over budget.

When the Obama administration asked to negotiate, Christie turned to Weinstein, whose skills as a behind-the-scenes peacemaker had endeared him to both Democrats and Republicans. Weinstein met with then-U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to discuss options, but two weeks later, he released a memo backing Christie. The rail project was dead.

It was the first of what observers say would become a pattern over the next four years of Weinstein, a notoriously loyal foot soldier, laying aside his own interests to deliver the orders of his boss, often with humility and tones of personal conviction. (Rouse/The Record) 




Ex-Prosecutor Urges Legislative Probe in Hunterdon Sheriff’s Case

Wisniewski-Weinberg panel asked to investigate why Christie’s attorney general killed indictment of sheriff linked to Guadagno, Christie donor

Charles Ouslander, the Hunterdon County first assistant prosecutor who supervised the 2010 indictment of Republican Sheriff Deborah Trout and two aides for official misconduct, yesterday asked the Legislature’s Select Committee on Investigation to expand its inquiry to include whether Gov. Chris Christie’s Attorney General, Paula Dow, was politically pressured by her boss to take over the prosecutor’s office and kill the indictment. (Magyar/NJSpotlight) 




State BPU Wants to Whittle Down PSE&G’s $2.6B Power-Grid Upgrade Plan

Agency’s limit would hold state’s largest utility to a budget of $1 billion over three years

The state wants to scale back plans by Public Service Electric & Gas to spend $2.6 billion over the next five years to harden its power grid to prevent the kind of widespread outages that occurred during Hurricane Sandy.

At a private settlement discussion on Wednesday among participants in the case, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities said the plan should only allow approximately $1 billion in expenditures over the next three years, according to sources familiar with the case. (Johnson/NJSpotlight) 




Union ads questions political ties between Christie advisor and Saint Mary’s Hospital buyer

TRENTON — Capitalizing on the scandal surrounding Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, a health care workers’ union has spent $50,000 on ads questioning why a for-profit hospital chain hired the public relations firm led by the governor’s chief political strategist to promote a plan to buy a struggling hospital in Passaic.

The purchase of St. Mary’s Hospital by Prime Healthcare Services in California needs the blessing of state Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd to move ahead. The State Health Planning Board will meet Friday to advise O’Dowd on whether she ought to approve the sale.

Health Care Workers United West bought radio and online advertisements coinciding with the meeting to draw attention to “NJ Health Care-Gate” — what it says is Prime’s politically motivated decision to hire Mercury Public Affairs, of which Republican strategist Mike DuHaime is a partner, said Chris Salm, research director for Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West.

“We wanted to make sure regulators understood what they are getting themselves into,” Salm said. (Livio/Star-Ledger) 




Bridge Scandal: Cop who toured lane closures with Wilstein knew Chris Christie, report says

The police officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who drove a key figure in the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal on a tour of the snarled traffic in Fort Lee has connections to Gov. Chris Christie, according to a news report.

MSNBC host Steve Kornacki reported on his show this morning
 that Thomas “Chip” Michaels met with David Wildstein, the Christie appointee who oversaw the controversial lane closures, on the first day of the traffic jams.

The day before the lane closures went into effect, Michaels emailed his supervisor, Deputy Police Inspector Darcy Licorish, the George Washington Bridge police commander at the time, asking, “Is there going to be a new traffic pattern installed for Monday the 9th?”

To which Licorish replied, “This is to [be] compled (sic) by the maintenance personnel.”

Michael responded, “Understood. Will this affect our normal rush hour operation?”

“Most likely. Concerns were made to no aval (sic) locally,” Licorish said. (O’Neill/Star-Ledger) 






Chicago (hotel) politic, Steven Golstein gets the Hollywood treatment and more

Why did the Democrats cross the road?

Because the hotel where Gov. Chris Christie addressed the Economic Club of Chicago wouldn’t let them book a conference room there.

The Auditor was told the Democratic National Committee had tried to book a room at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Chicago for a news conference with former Gov.Ted Strickland of Ohio, a Democrat — the same hotel where the Republican Christie addressed the group of business executives and held a question-and-answer session the same day.

But before the ink on the contract was dry, hotel officials told the Democrats the hotel needed to clear all new rentals with the party that was renting out the majority of the conference rooms — which happened to be the Economic Club — and after talking to the group, the hotel decided it was a “conflict of interest.”

So the Democrats simply booked a room at the Embassy Suites a block away, where Strickland lashed out at Christie, calling him either a liar or incompetent for professing his ignorance about the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge in September.

A spokeswoman for the Economic Club declined to comment, as did the DNC. A call to the hotel went unreturned. (The Auditor/Star-Ledger) 




Bridge scandal probe should continue without key Republicans

We know now that Bill Baroni’s testimony in November about a fictitious “traffic study” that caused the infamous traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge was a big lie.

So it is disturbing to learn through text messages obtained by The Star-Ledger editorial board that Sen. Kevin O’Toole was working with Baroni and his sidekick at the Port Authority, David Wildstein, to spin this story.

The records show that within one minute of finishing his testimony, Baroni sent a text message to Wildstein asking about the reaction in Trenton. A few seconds later, Wildstein tells Baroni: “O’Toole statement ready.”

If the statement was ready in advance, then O’Toole (R-Essex) must have been communicating with Baroni and Wildstein beforehand. (Star-Ledger Editorial Board) 


Morning Digest: Feb. 17, 2014